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A TASTE OF RAINMAKERS:
JACK SUSSMAN


CBS put Jack Sussman in charge of its specials back in 1998. He was promoted to EVP of specials, music and live events in March 2006 and in 2020 took over all alternative programming in addition to specials.

Sussman is the guy who works with artists, managers and labels to put music on CBS, whether that’s prime-time series and movies or his bread and butter, awards shows and specials like the Grammys and Kennedy Center Honors. Among the multitude of specials he’s overseen for the network are 2021’s Adele One Night Only, 2017’s Bruno Mars: 24K Magic Live at the Apollo and Grammy tributes to The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Elton John and The Bee Gees. He was also involved in Prince’s legendary 2007 halftime performance at Super Bowl XLI, which Rolling Stone has deemed the best ever.

A Tar Heel forced to pass up the NCAA Final Four to oversee 2022’s rescheduled Grammys, Sussman takes pride in not only his past successes but the team he’s assembled. “Between the specials, the music and the alternative programming, I think I have the best team in television,” he says. “I’ve got great people far smarter, quicker and hipper than I am who help me do what we do every day.”

Is there a particular type of artist that CBS is interested in presenting? Is it a recognition factor, a style?
It depends on the show. When you’re talking about the Grammys, it must be relevant and interesting to a broadcast television audience. But we’re different from our corporate partners who have very specific, narrower audiences, whether that’s Nickelodeon and kids or MTV and older kids/young adults. We’re a big tent.

The filter I’ve used over the years—regardless of whether you’re a country artist, a hip-hop artist, a rock artist, a pop artist, a Latin artist—is: Do my 20-something daughters want to watch it, will my wife want to watch it and will my mother not turn it off? If you can get through that filter, you’ll succeed on network television.

Obviously, 2021 and 2022 were dramatically different live shows, especially the Grammys. Have any lessons come out of that, things you wouldn’t have realized otherwise?
One, I don’t have to be in every room at every moment, and I can manage stuff without having to get on a plane. We did the Grammys at the Convention Center in L.A., and we created this big room where the artists played for each other and were each other’s audience. It was what we could do in that moment at that highest level. Ben Winston and the Fulwell team pulled it off and knocked it out of the park. Then we were able to go into a building in Las Vegas and create a live event with an audience that used some of that experiential knowledge to develop the show even further. I thought they took it to a really high level.

Every few years you get to do a Super Bowl. Do you have a favorite moment?
I have several, but in 2007 when Prince was on the stage in Miami, someone was looking down on us in that stadium, because the second he started into “Purple Rain,” this horrendous rainstorm kicked in. You can’t make that sort of thing up.

Super Bowl halftime is one of those moments where hundreds of millions of people are watching, and you get to create something special with the artists, the NFL and the producers. I’ve worked with The Who, Beyoncé, Coldplay, Maroon 5—great live performers who can deliver the goods. It’s still the biggest and best platform.

How about a favorite show that might not be as obvious as the Super Bowl or the Grammys?
A Home for the Holidays is a great example of where you can do good and do well. We created this little show after [Los Angeles] Mayor [Richard] Riordan came to our office in 1998 and pitched us this idea about creating awareness of moving children from foster care into adoption. We partnered with Wendy’s to create the show and used music to drive the awareness and provide entertainment while we told these great stories about families created through adoption. Now, 20-plus years later, having done the show every December, over 30,000 foster kids have found their forever families. That’s the power of music and network television coming together with social services to do good.

Social-change network television—I feel really good about that. Though I also feel good about simply giving people an hour of great entertainment, allowing them to sit back in this crazy world we’re living in right now and just be entertained.

Read the complete interview here.

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